There’s the street in downtown Miami. The children’s hospital at Jackson Memorial. And now, the tennis center in Miami Beach.
All bear the name of Abel Holtz: former banker, generous philanthropist and convicted felon.
Many remember the Miami Beach tennis stadium that was named after him. That was before Holtz pleaded guilty in 1994 to lying to a grand jury about making secret payments to a famously corrupt Miami Beach mayor.
The stadium is long gone, but a separate tennis center still stands. After years of work and millions of public dollars poured into renovations, that center is slated to reopen soon.
Signs on site declare: Flamingo Park Holtz Tennis Center.
“It’s scandalous,” said Gayle Durham, who sits on the Beach’s Tennis Advisory Committee.
She’s not just talking about the name. Tennis enthusiasts also wonder about the process that landed Holtz’s name there.
As it turns out, it was a process involving contract obligations that the city might no longer be bound by — a contract that Holtz himself, now 78, told The Miami Herald he wouldn’t try to enforce.
Before he went to prison, Abel Holtz was an influential banker. He escaped Castro’s Cuba and went on to build Capital Bank, which made him a multimillionaire.
Holtz spread his wealth, donating generously to organization such as Miami’s Children’s Hospital. He also built a tennis stadium that he donated to Miami Beach.
Built on city land, it cost $550,000, according to news reports at the time, and was called Abel Holtz Stadium. He gave the city favorable terms on a loan that was used to renovate the separate, nearby tennis center. In return, the center was renamed the Flamingo Park-Capital Bank Tennis Center.
To seal the deal, the city in 1983 entered into a contract with Capital Bank. According to the contract, the stadium would keep the name “in perpetuity,” and the center name would not be “removed, altered or changed unless approved by Capital” and unless the city agreed.
At the same time he was building his stadium, Holtz was buying political influence, said former Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud.
Daoud was a young lawyer and a Miami Beach city commissioner when he first met Holtz at the banker’s waterfront Venetian Islands mansion. It was there that Holtz first offered him a bribe, Daoud said in a telephone interview with The Miami Herald. Daoud said he was paid between $1,000 and $1,500 a month in “legal fees” for services he never provided.
“It was for influence,” Daoud said. “He bribed me.”
Daoud, who went on to serve three terms as mayor, was pocketing money from plenty of other people. His political career ended in 1991, when he was slapped with a 41-count federal indictment charging him with racketeering, extortion, money-laundering and filing false tax returns. The disgraced mayor testified that he had accepted the payments from Holtz.
Daoud was sentenced to five years in prison, but served only about 18 months.
Holtz, meanwhile, pleaded guilty in October 1994 to lying to a grand jury about the payments. His conviction meant he could no longer run his bank, so his son, Daniel Holtz, was put in charge.
The city, meanwhile, pondered what to do with its tennis stadium, which now bore the name of a criminal tied to one of the most infamous chapters in Miami Beach history. Contractually, the city needed Capital Bank’s permission before it could change the name.